A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s

A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s

by Elizabeth Todd-Breland


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In 2012, Chicago's school year began with the city's first teachers' strike in a quarter century and ended with the largest mass closure of public schools in U.S. history. On one side, a union leader and veteran black woman educator drew upon organizing strategies from black and Latinx communities to demand increased school resources. On the other side, the mayor, backed by the Obama administration, argued that only corporate-style education reform could set the struggling school system aright. The stark differences in positions resonated nationally, challenging the long-standing alliance between teachers' unions and the Democratic Party.

Elizabeth Todd-Breland recovers the hidden history underlying this battle. She tells the story of black education reformers' community-based strategies to improve education beginning during the 1960s, as support for desegregation transformed into community control, experimental schooling models that pre-dated charter schools, and black teachers' challenges to a newly assertive teachers' union. This book reveals how these strategies collided with the burgeoning neoliberal educational apparatus during the late twentieth century, laying bare ruptures and enduring tensions between the politics of black achievement, urban inequality, and U.S. democracy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469646589
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 10/22/2018
Series: Justice, Power, and Politics
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 376,073
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Todd-Breland is assistant professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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From the Publisher

For half a century Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, has played an outsized role in the ongoing debates concerning race and public education. Elizabeth Todd-Breland is the first historian to weave together those decades of reform and retreat and reform again. Todd-Breland brilliantly articulates the dynamic interplay of municipal and state institutions in combination with the actions of ordinary Black women, students, and teachers to portray the richness and complexity of the struggle for the right to a decent public education. Deeply researched, sharply argued and beautifully narrated, Todd-Breland demonstrates the centrality of Chicago in comprehending the tumultuous history of public education in the United States.—Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

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